What happens when you strike up a conversation that is so potentially fraught with charged emotion and several layers’ worth of analysis? You need two websites to help each other wade through the minefield and reach a (more or less) coherent answer to the question at hand.
Thus, please welcome the good folks of Tower of the Hand, one of the premier fansites of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, who graciously accepted our invitation to drink, debate, and bar-fight over the singular importance of the rapidly-approaching season five. The first half of our discussion follows below; the second half is featured over at TOTH (so be sure to head on over there once you’re done mopping up the blood here!).
By our powers combined…
Marc N. Kleinhenz (Tower of the Hand/Watchers on the Wall):
Given that season five will finally mark the occasion when Game of Thrones catches up with the books, there are two questions that, I think, must be asked:
Will this be the make-or-break season of the show? If showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss can pull off adapting the tricky fourth and fifth books – as well as start to introduce more and more elements from the sixth – will it retroactively make everything that’s come before more justified or otherwise validated? And if they can’t, will it be the final nail in the coffin of the series’s quality?
Furthermore, since it looks like season five will introduce the largest amount of original material yet, let me ask each of you: do you think this year will be a success or a failure in this regard?
Axechucker (Watchers on the Wall):
Saying “final nail” implies that there’s even a coffin, and that the show is in some way not a success. It’s a tremendous success. Certainly there are things we, as fans, wish they had done differently, but… that’s the same for Every Adaptation Ever. Compared to most book-to-screen adaptations, Game of Thrones easily ranks among the most faithful.
So it’s not a make-or-break season, as GOT has already surpassed most peoples’ wildest expectations – at least on a success level. The only way it could damage its own legacy would be by stinking up the joint so badly that HBO declines to finish the series. (Not completely impossible. See: Rome, Deadwood, etc.) But, honestly, HBO would have to fall into a black pit of retardation to not be on board with finishing the story, just from a moneymaking standpoint alone.
Not to reveal my inner Pollyanna, but I actually think it’s the perfect storm. People have criticized books four and five for being slow and going virtually nowhere, but I loved A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons for what they were: interesting place-setters for the endgame. George was able to show us a picture of the ravages of war, which I enjoyed a lot, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking much of it would be even half as interesting onscreen. There’s only so much excitement that could be gained by watching Jaime watch other people not hang Edmure. (Sorry for that spoiler! Edmure Tully is still not hanged! Don’t be shocked!)
If the producers’ goal is to simply keep the ball rolling, well, I can only say that the decision to combine much of AFFC and ADWD into one season is a good one. Yes, of course they’ve farted out the usual “We aim to make this next season the best season of Game of Thrones yet!” statement, which is producerspeak for Keep Watching Please, and is really just par for course. I don’t know that they actually believe it.
If they do? Good luck, lads. The source material’s not there. I’ll be utterly shocked if season five is better than four. But even if they turn out the worst season so far, it won’t mar what’s come before, nor will it prevent the final two seasons from telling George’s endgame. The show will differ, as it must, but I think the primary beats will be there. Really, the last two seasons actually depend on how good George’s writing is. Season five could be a massive stinking turd, and we will still get six and season, with a pretty good amount of faithfulness. I’m confident.
I mean, unless Jeyne Westerling pops up somewhere in The Winds of Winter carrying Baby King in the North. Then they’ve got a lot of ‘splaining to do.
SomethingLikeALawyer (Tower of the Hand):
I’d say that the show has likely made enough money and fame to greenlight their budget for the next few seasons, from an accounting standpoint. Besides which, the show and the characters have entered into the public consciousness. I mean, reaction shots for the Red Wedding made it on to Conan, and everywhere from Forbes to Slate, there are articles about the show.
People are interested, and, more importantly, people are invested. They need to see how the story is going to end, and what will end up happening to each character. There’s a morbid fascination as to which character will end up dead. There’s so many taboo impulses that get stroked from the show, so I’d say the followership is not in jeopardy.
In terms of quality, it’s hard to outdo some of the absolute bombs that the show’s original content has already done. I’ve been pretty critical of the original plots in the past, and from everything I’ve seen, I don’t see any reason for improvement in that regard. The writers will continue to make changes for the sake of the constraints of the show. The medium forces it. Sometimes, the writers do very well in incorporating their changes into the narrative (the throne only having less than 200 swords, for instance, segues very well into memetics). But I’m fairly sure we’ll see head-slapping original content, too, and the pattern is likely to hold that I won’t like the additions.
Stefan (Tower of the Hand):
As other popular series on the same network (*cough*True Blood*cough*) show, you can produce a lot of stupid, stupid, stupid original content without driving the show out of business viewer-wise. Artistically, it’s another matter, of course. Therefore, in pure business terms, the next season won’t make or break anything; for the audience at large, it won’t change much, anyway. It’s only the book-nuts that will be affected in large strokes, especially since we’re entering heavy spoiler territory (which will become even more of an issue in 2016).
But, yes, there are legitimate worries about the artistic quality. I wouldn’t say that the original content is, by and large, bad or worse than the source material. There are scenes with original content that work absolutely great, and there are scenes with source material that don’t work at all. The question of whether or not a given scene works is not tied at all to the source material – it’s a question of good writing versus bad writing. Many agree that the whole plotline at the Wall, for example, was poorly handled in comparison to many of the others.
It doesn’t really matter whether the material was original or not; some scenes from the book lacked much impact, and some original scenes had it, and vice versa. Therefore, I’m very confident that it doesn’t matter in which part of Westeros Jaime Lannister will spit out great dialogue – the great dialogue is the thing that is important.
Sue the Fury (Watchers on the Wall):
I agree that the show already is a success, and the previous seasons won’t be diminished even if the next season (and beyond) is less successful in terms of adaptation, reactions, or ratings. The triumphs (and mistakes) of the past seasons exist on their own terms, independent of the success of the future seasons.
I think the show has an incredible opportunity with adapting AFFC and ADWD. It was a mistake to break the saga up to begin with, and if they reintegrate the storylines with smart trimming, they could top Martin. I do like the fourth and fifth books, but there’s no denying that there are laggy sections, and that I hated not having important POV characters in both novels. If Benioff and Weiss rise to the challenge and restrain their self-indulgent urges, they just might pull it off. They don’t have perfect records when it comes to original content (Talisa makes me cringe), but no writer has a perfect record – not even Martin. I have high hopes for Game of Thrones this year.
Axechucker (Watchers on the Wall):
I know why they didn’t go the Jeyne Westerling route (an aged-up Jeyne would have been hated, seriously), but I really think they dropped the ball with regard to Talisa’s potential as a honeypot (™Bex). I don’t know if they were just trolling us, in general, or if they just chickened out, opting for a splashier finish, but it really could have been something. The only reason I give Talisa a pass in general is because it made the GOT Red Wedding that much… redder, and it really resonated with non-book readers. Like, we thought the RW couldn’t be worse than in the books? It was. And the public’s reaction made it the year’s water cooler moment…
It’s hard, as a television critic, to then go, “Yeah, well, but in the book…”
But would it have been even twistier had she been a Tywin plant? Hell, yeah.
Shylah (Watchers on the Wall):
I definitely agree that the show is a success – I mean, one of my great uncles, who is in his 70s, likes to post comments in Dothraki on my Facebook status updates. So I think we’ve reached full media saturation here.
That being said, next season will definitely be a different sort of challenge for the show. Many of the biggest, most shocking moments from the books thus far have been depicted. (Not to say that there aren’t twists and turns in AFFC and ADWD, but, come on, very little can top the Red Wedding and Tywin taking a bolt to the gut!)
Frankly, D&D have had it pretty easy so far. It’s pretty hard to mess up the suspense and terror of a murder wedding or to drop the ball on a trial featuring the audience’s favorite character, and then cap it off with said character killing his dad on the john. All of the events of the first three books lead up to these dramatic climaxes, and with the start of season five, D&D not only have the challenge of introducing new characters and plotlines, but they also need to keep up the tension – something which may be hard, considering that the contents of AFFC and ADWD are markedly more subtle, and I’m not convinced that Game of Thrones is great at subtle.
So, while I don’t think this season has the ability to “make or break” the series, I think it’s going to be a good way for viewers (especially those who are also book readers) to gauge how the producers will fare adapting material that is either (a) more nuanced and less easy to adapt for the screen or (b) unpublished. How they cut, what they add, and what they choose to “spice up” will by key indicators for where the show is heading while we take the turn into the home stretch.
For me, the biggest litmus test for the new season will be how the writers/producers handle Brienne and Pod’s storylines, which feature some of the most poignant examples of the effects of the war on Westeros, while also being some of the most “uneventful” chapters in the books. If they can capture the former while losing or changing the latter, I will definitely have an increased respect for the showrunners, for they will have done something with the material that even George himself struggled to do through these middle chapters of the series.
Be sure to check out the second half of the conversation over at Tower of the Hand, where the banter – and nitpicking – gets kicked up a notch (or two).